When starting to fence as a beginner there can be so much information to learn it’s hard to know where to start.
You might want to develop your technique but not know how, or want to know how best to use your club time for maximum results. You might even be facing frustration at lack of progress, or be at a crossroads where you’re reconsidering whether you even want to continue with the sport of fencing.
Thankfully, whether you fence foil, epee or sabre, our beginner fencing tips guide aims to give new starters great advice on how to improve their fencing basics.
Here are our top 10 fencing tips for beginners:
1. Work on the Basics
As you learn more, it can be tempting to treat each new technique as something you do in isolation, apply it for an hour, before moving onto a new technique.
This would be the wrong approach. You will see greater success if you refine the most basic elements of fencing over and over.
By perfecting the basics, you will create a solid foundation from which to grow and you will be a more successful fencer.
It’s important when improving on the basics such as advancing, retreating, lunging, parrying, counter-ripostes and timing, that you do so with some oversight or outside perspective.
This is because if you train in isolation, at home for example, you may embed bad habits into your technique without correction.
If you must train in isolation, consider recording yourself and analysing your movements against proper form, and ask for feedback from other fencers on what you could do better.
It’s also crucial to then apply these in actual bouts, or these will soon become mere training habits.
2. Learn Distance and Timing
A key factor in whether you win or lose an assault or bout is down to your mastery of distance and timing. This is why some fencers seem impossible to score against, while also seeming to score endlessly against you.
Understanding how to dictate and control distance and tempo in a bout gives you a great advantage in being able to attack and defend against your opponent.
While many beginner fencers focus on the prescribed attacking and defensive manoeuvres, many often neglect to think of distance and the timing of those attacks as a key part of beginner fencing strategy.
Focusing on footwork, cardio and distance management can be your secret weapon in early matches, making you harder to hit, while giving you an attacking advantage if done correctly.
Make sure you wear trainers with good grip, or invest in fencing shoes. Worn trainers can cause injuries that will put you out of action for weeks if not months.
3. Improve Your Cardio
While you may wonder how tiring it could be moving back and forth on a piste, you will quickly learn that strong cardio and stamina is very important in fencing.
Being able to stay agile to retreat and attack at a moment’s notice is crucial to winning points and avoiding touches.
Improving your physical fitness also allows you to place a greater focus on the mental and psychological aspects of fencing - key to predicting your opponents actions and outfoxing them.
Having strong cardio is also important if you are taking part in competitions, where you’ll need to maintain your stamina over many bouts.
Regularly running, cycling or swimming is a great way to stay fit in between fencing sessions.
4. Cope With Getting Hit
Getting hit when you first start fencing can be quite a jarring experience. Having seen sword fighting in films and TV you might be concerned the point is going to go straight through you!
It won’t, but you’ll still probably feel quite sore after your first few bouts and the day after your first few sessions - whether that’s your torso from the point of the blade or aches from unused muscles springing to life.
Aside from aches and pains, you might feel irritated or angry when you get hit, which is a natural human reaction - it feels like someone is hurting you. This is especially the case if a stray point or foible hits your mask. The disorientating sound of metal on metal only adds to this annoyance.
It’s important you learn to cope with this and keep your cool, you’ll soon learn it’s a normal part of fencing, and soon it will feel like nothing at all.
Doing a proper fencing warm-up and cool-down helps prevent sore muscles and injuries.
5. Learn to Lose
Once you have completed your introductory training sessions, you will likely start the fantastic experience of free fencing against other club members. You’ll doubtless find yourself frustrated when outfenced by those that are more experienced.
It will be hard to believe how opponents are able to score some touches, or why you just can’t seem to get close, with a depressing final score the only thing to show for your efforts.
This will be hard to mentally overcome when you first start, as there will be so little reward for your efforts in matches. Your learning will seldom be reinforced by good results against other, better fencers.
It’s important to remember that everyone starts somewhere. Provided you keep working on your training and treasure your small wins, you will see steady progress.
Here, your mental strength will be key to keep you focused on long term fencing success rather than expecting huge improvements every week.
6. Do Focused Training
When you first start, there will be lots of information to grasp and practice, including:
- Compound Attacks
This new knowledge you gain may be a bit overwhelming, making it hard to know where you should start. The most important thing is to make sure that when you are training, that you are focused on getting better at one thing, rather than trying to cover everything at once.
Doing the latter is a slower way to perfect technique, whereas trying to perfect one technique or learning at a time will make progress faster, and your body will get more used to doing unfamiliar movements.
It’s also important to have drive in your training sessions. Having a purposeless session can be wasteful, and without a goal in mind of what you want to work on, you’ll find your progress is slower.
If you want to brush up on your understanding of fencing concepts like those listed above, be sure to check out our fencing glossary for all the terms and definitions you need to know.
7. Invest in 1-to-1 Coaching
When you first begin to fence at your local club, you’ll likely be doing group sessions with other beginners.
Aside from these group lessons where you will learn the basics, it’s really worth spending a little more time and money (if you can afford it) on 1-to-1 coaching.
It gives you the opportunity to have a professional coach focus solely on your development. This is in valuable in ironing our problems with your fencing technique, giving you more learn opportunities and providing you with the chance to ask questions of an experienced fencing coach. Fencing can be seen as an expensive sport, but this is one additional cost that is really worthwhile.
8. Study Other Fencers
Learning from the techniques of Olympic-level fencers and fencers at your own club is a great way to see how others attack and defend points. As you become more immersed in fencing, you’ll soon absorb different methods and styles no matter what type of fencing sword you use.
Understanding how others advance, counter and feint can be a great influence on your own fencing. Even taking one fencer’s approach and applying that to your next bout can give you something fresh to shake up your habits.
9. Ask for Advice
When starting to fence at a club regularly it can be tempting to follow the routine of taking instruction from your fencing coach, and at the end of the lesson, go into free fencing.
But you should try and use your time at the club to proactively ask for feedback from both your coach and other fencers. Getting advice on things like technique, fitness, diet and training can be hugely beneficial.
It can be especially beneficial if a more experienced fencer is speaking from their own experience. Knowing how others have faced the same fencing challenges as you, and how they overcame them, can be hugely important in boosting your morale and accelerating your progress.
Spend time in Fencing forums and online communities like the Fencing Subreddit - they can be fantastic learning resources.
10. Make Friends
If you’re going to your club regularly and are focused on your fencing, it can be easy to miss chances to make connections to your fellow fencers in between warm ups and bouts.
Ultimately you’ll be fencing on a weekly basis, so why not use this opportunity to make friends? It makes pairing up and giving feedback easier.
Learning from one another and embarking on your fencing journey with similar minded people, is a great way of bringing some life into your weekly club attendance.
It’s also a clever way of motivating yourself during tough periods where you may not feel as much drive as you want to. You may not want to go - but your friends will be there!